Sacrificing Isaac: Sunday, July 2, 2017
The Old Testament lesson for July 2 is, I believe, one of the most difficult in all of Scripture. (Click here to read it.)
Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, and our father in faith as well, has taken his only son, Isaac, into the wilderness to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. As they begin this journey, only Abraham knows that God has told him to offer Isaac, not some animal procured along the way.
In the end, of course, Abraham does not sacrifice his son and there is some comfort in that fact. We need to remember that at this point in history, human sacrifice was relatively widely practiced. Many of the religions with which Abraham was familiar practiced it, and the Jewish faith had not yet developed to the point of barring human sacrifice. In fact, at that time the Jewish faith was nothing more than a call sensed by one man — Abraham. There was no community, no nation, no law, no Ten Commandments, no prophets, nothing but Abraham’s own call from God.
Because of his history and experience, Abraham probably did not share our visceral revulsion at the notion of child sacrifice. For us, it is simply inconceivable, and so far beyond the pale that we see even the thought as despicably evil.
So even though Abraham knew of the practice of human sacrifice, I also have no doubt that Abraham did not want to do this. Whether he would actually have brought the knife down on his son, we will never know. Yet, I struggle with the fact that he seemed willing.
In the big picture, this event becomes a turning point for the Jewish people — this where Abraham learns that we are not to be like the other religions. Human sacrifice will not be a part of our religious observance. As uncomfortable as the story is, it marks a critical and necessary transition.
So what do we, as Christians today, make of these events? Many things, I’m sure, but three come quickly to mind. First, God calls us to value Him over all else. Not just to value Him over some things, or the things we’re not too attached to. But to value Him over all else, even over life itself!
Second, while God did not ask Abraham to make this sacrifice (God knew what His plan was before Abraham even set out), He is prepared to make that sacrifice Himself. God gave His only son, Jesus, up to death on the cross for our redemption. We do not worship a God who is far away and detached, but who makes such a sacrifice for us — a sacrifice He does not ask us to make, He makes Himself. Thanks be to God!
Finally, our Lord will provide all that we need for what He calls us to do. We can trust that He will not leave us short of what He calls us to! He may leave us short of what we want — but never short of what He wants for us!
This column appeared in the St. John’s Weekly eNews for July 2, 2017. Click here for the complete issue. Click here to get the eNews in your inbox every Thursday afternoon.